Skip to content

Cornerstone officials come out of ministry meetings feeling optimistic

While South East Cornerstone Public School Division educators worked on upcoming lesson plans and sorted out their schedules for the new school year last week, their board chairman and director of education were in Regina and Moose Jaw respectively,

While South East Cornerstone Public School Division educators worked on upcoming lesson plans and sorted out their schedules for the new school year last week, their board chairman and director of education were in Regina and Moose Jaw respectively, picking up and delivering valuable information with representatives from the Ministry of Education.

Cornerstone chairman Harold Laich spent time with seven or eight other Saskatchewan school division chairmen and women along with Education Minister Russ Marchuk and Assistant Deputy Minister Don Johnson as they worked on reducing an extensive list of initiatives to a more workable plan.

Director of Education Marc Casavant, on the other hand, was meeting with other directors and ministry officials to grind out a capital infrastructure plan and a model that can be used for prioritizing major capital projects for school divisions around the province.

Laich said the people involved in his meeting were focused on developing a public sector education plan that will pass scrutiny at the board and director levels.

"We went in there knowing that the ministry had no fewer than 42 identified initiatives. It was our job to eliminate the unnecessary items and get down to the two, three, four or eight initiatives that were reachable and needed to be tended to," Laich said in a telephone interview on Aug. 29.

"We don't want to go in too many directions, so we had to look at what is really important and decided it was going to be student achievement even if we have a fragmented assessment process. There is the overwhelming need to provide student achievement," he added.

As far as school boards are concerned, Laich said the team felt the current capital infrastructure deficit that exists had to be accounted for and commitment was needed that would enable school boards to provide some long-term planning when it came to facility construction or renewals and replacements. That, he added, was what Casavant and his meeting mates were doing just a few kilometers down the road.

A third major item that needs to be addressed sooner, rather than later, he said was a need to lead the country in the percentage of graduates and that includes a concerted effort to improve the high school graduation rates of First Nations students.

"We can do that by providing support to the federal funding plan and to improve their school experiences," said Laich.

The actual format and attendance numbers at the meeting allowed all those present to have significant input into the process and to freely discuss what needed to be discussed.

"I didn't get the sense that the ministry is trying to run the show. They are implementing a lean (efficiency) program, which, when implemented, will give us better value for our money as it goes forward, but I didn't feel they were trying to control this agenda or the process. From what I heard that day, our new Deputy Minister Dan Florizone is tasked with prioritizing the items to get the things that are really important done. There is a top down pressure at the ministry to listen to one another, so in that respect, the ministry does control the agenda, but in reality, they know that sometimes things are different in the trenches than they are in the ivory towers," Laich added.

In fact, the veteran educational administrator (now retired) and board member said, "it's the first time I've gone to a meeting and came away with an impression that everyone was willing to work together."

There will be at least two more meetings for chairs and government administrators including a four-day planning session in early October for directors only.

"Boards of education will deliver their priorities and hand them off to directors and the provincial treasury will no doubt be getting involved, along with board chairs as well as the ministry officials. That should all be coming together by early 2014," Laich said.

"What will roll out from that will probably come to light in the fall of 2014. Before that directors will need to go through the priority reports. I think we're all in the same boat this time in terms of initiatives. There will be further inputs before we get to an action plan, but we're working together," Laich said.

Casavant said the session he attended left no doubt in their minds that the ministry was looking for feedback on prioritizing construction and renovation models.

"I think we all have a handle on the smaller project models. I also left with the feeling that we'll have influence and accountability at the division levels for the major projects.

"For these larger projects, they're looking for a more simplistic and transparent way to do them than what is happening now."

Casavant said the directors learned that the potential for P3 models (private, public partnerships) are definitely in the discussion for the major projects, and there is an expectation of some announcements regarding these models coming soon.

"There could be a P3 model for a group of schools in a partnership," said Casavant, referring to the economy of scale for big ticket items.

"We're trying to support a new process. It could be a year away, but that would include a funding model for major capital projects," he said.

The director said they submit a five-year capital project plan every September and the current plan is looking at major projects for Estevan's Comprehensive School and a major need in Carlyle.

"But the ministry is so far behind on so many files, it will be difficult to sort out when these things can happen," Casavant said.

The Moose Jaw meeting included directors from Chinook, Prairie South, Holy Trinity, Cornerstone and Holy Family school divisions.

"It was a pretty optimistic meeting. The ministry is reaching out to see what might be and what could be done, so I see that as a positive first step. There have been lots of turnovers at the ministry level and I like the people they're putting together there. They appear to be using common sense in a desire to meet some major challenges. So what we can do is put our pieces into that model, help them create a ranking system and when they have a new one implemented, we move forward."